Joe Ofahengaue is off-contract for 2020. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
Joe Ofahengaue is off-contract for 2020. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Joe O’s heart still with Bennett-less Broncos

JOE Ofahengaue has vowed to not let Wayne Bennett's departure affect his future in the NRL, admitting his heart is with the Broncos as he goes on the open market on Thursday.

The powerhouse forward is one of seven Brisbane players who can now be signed for season 2020 and beyond with the arrival of the NRL's November 1 contract deadline.

The Broncos are set to become one of the most watched clubs over the next 12 months, given current coach Bennett is headed to South Sydney in 2020 with Anthony Seibold to take over the reins from the 68-year-old.

Alongside Ofahengaue, Tevita Pangai Jr, Alex Glenn, Patrick Carrigan, George Fai, Patrick Mago and Andre Savelio are also off-contract, making them targets not just for the Rabbitohs but other NRL clubs.

And while speculation has already started that Pangai Jr could follow his respected mentor out the door, Ofahengaue has indicated he wants to stay at Red Hill.

The 23-year-old - who had his best season to date in 2018 - said as long as the Broncos want him, he will put Brisbane first and Bennett's looming departure is unlikely to affect that.

"I'd love to stay here," Ofahengaue told The Courier-Mail.

"I don't think anyone would want to leave here unless you were forced to leave.

 

Ofahengaue is keen to cement a starting berth. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Ofahengaue is keen to cement a starting berth. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

 

"We have the best facilities in the NRL, we have awesome staff, an awesome CEO … everyone at the club is really helpful. It's a hard place to leave.

"It really is about the club. Wayne did have a lot influence on players signing here but it's a business. It is what it is."

As for the other big name Broncos players who are off-contract, South Sydney have already expressed an interest in Pangai Jr, who recently revealed he was going to sign a one-year deal for 2019 so he could test his value again after another season in the NRL.

The Tongan sensation has spoken many times before of Bennett's influence on him, including the fact he came to Brisbane from Canberra to be taught by the supercoach.

 

Wayne Bennett’s departure may play a role in Ofahengaue’s decision. (AAP Image/Darren England)
Wayne Bennett’s departure may play a role in Ofahengaue’s decision. (AAP Image/Darren England)

 

Glenn is another international who is off-contract but has expressed a desire to remain a one-club player, while young gun Carrigan has already had interest from the Bulldogs, Raiders and Knights.

The Queensland under-20s captain is someone the Broncos will want to keep in their system but he could also come on to South Sydney's radar given his potential to be an NRL gun.

While all players will begin to weigh up their futures from Thursday, Ofahengaue said he was going to first focus on his 2019 season with Brisbane.

He said he earned a contract extension in 2017 just by backing himself on the field and wants to do the same next year, especially given it will be Bennett's final season at the club.

 

Ofahengaue was strong for Tonga against Australia. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
Ofahengaue was strong for Tonga against Australia. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

 

Ofahengaue - who made his NRL debut under Bennett in 2015 - said the seven-time premiership-winning coach had done plenty for him over his career and the players would want to repay him next year, even if Bennett does not want them to think that way.

"He will just want us to go out there and bloody win a comp," Ofahengaue said.

"He wouldn't want us to win it for him.

"He's been really honest with me since the start … Whenever I had something silly going on in my life, I always knew I could talk to Wayne.

"He's taught me a lot of lessons, not just with footy but life as well. He's done that for a lot of players."